Ballard Writers Collective Blog
The Many Loves of Laura Cooper
By Sheila Kelly
Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Sheila Kelly profiles Laura Cooper.
You might know Laura Cooper as fisherwoman, writer, cook, artist, photographer natural resource advocate, or neighborhood activist. If you don’t know her and find yourself standing next to her at some garden party and you lead with “So what do you do?”, she pauses before replying that she is “an artist, writer, small business owner, and Ballard denizen” Notice that “artist” is first, though she is one of three authors of The Fishes and Dishes Cookbook, Seafood Recipes and Salty Stories from Alaska’s Commercial Fisherwomen, a book that American Booksellers Association included among the “Top 20 ‘great reads’ of 2010.” She readily admits that only two of the 80 recipes in the book are hers, though she does love food. When you look for her on Amazon be sure to search for “Laura K. Cooper.” (Otherwise you’ll get that other Cooper woman who wrote My Hot Bedtime Stories and Confessions of a Slut Wife.) Our Laura did contribute artwork and salty stories for Fishes and Dishes, based on her years as a cook and deckhand, long-lining and salmon tendering in Alaska. (If you wonder just what those terms mean, the book’s helpful glossary provides a quick lesson in the vocabulary of commercial fishing.) At the age of four, Laura caught a trout out of a stocked
swimming pool in Santa Barbara, and she was hooked on fishing. She always was fascinated by Alaska because her great-grandfather was in the last Alaskan gold rush up in Fairbanks. By 1990 she had gotten a job on a long-liner and worked her way north.
After a few years fishing out the Aleutian Chain, she became concerned over depleted stocks and the efforts to privatize this public resource. She got off the water and into politics through the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. She advocated for equity for the small boat industry. Later she earned a Master’s Degree at University of Washington with a focus on natural resources and joined the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) where she worked to harness market forces to promote sustainable fishing. She also worked as the Alaskan liaison for WWF’s Arctic Program promoting sustainable tourism. Both those efforts paid off: she helped establish protocols for the eco labeling of fish; and on an Artic excursion she met her future husband.
After she quit fishing, burned out on writing policy position papers and doing advocacy work, Laura decided to let herself be the artist she always knew she was. She turned her original collages into greeting cards and launched a business, Blue Flower Designs—her collage art cinched her role as a co-author of Fishes and Dishes Cookbook.
Her migration to Ballard happened out of the blue. In 1989 she walked over the hill from Phinney Ridge to meet a guy in Ballard, and fell in love—with Ballard. She felt comfortable there; her resonance with the salt water and the boats came from growing up on a coast. Later she discovered that her great-grandparents also lived in Ballard from 1914-1917. She grew up in Connecticut with no sense of a Scandinavian identity, though she is one quarter Swedish and her best friend was Norwegian. She was 32 the first time she went to Sweden where everyone looked familiar. She is now on the board of the Ballard Historical Society. She helped “Bring the Ring Back to Ballard” reinstating the Ballard Bell at 22nd NW Ballard Avenue. As a contributor to the Nordic Heritage Museum’s Oral History Project, she recorded the stories of local fisherman. She learned that back in her fish tendering days, eighteen years ago, the guy she was delivering salmon to in King Cove Alaska was her fourth cousin.
With her fishing and Scandinavian heritage duly honored, Laura now is in the early stages of writing about her three generations of great-grandparents who were pioneers on the Olympic Peninsula. They lived in New Dungeness (Sequim) and Discovery Bay. Her great, great grandfather was Sheriff of the Olympic Peninsula. Through her research she got interested in the Tubal-Cain Copper Mine in Buckhorn Mountain near Sequim. (Tubal-Cain appears in the Bible as a “forger of all instruments of bronze and iron.”) The mine was a bust and abandoned in 1920. This summer Laura climbed the 6992 foot Buckhorn mountain, went 150 meters into the mine adit, and walked through the ruins of the mining camp among metal boilers and cabin foundations. She has combed the files and archives of the area and wonders whether she still “may be missing a critical piece.” She is hoping to unearth letters or diaries from the early 20th century. She has not decided whether she is writing historical fiction, a family memoir, or a collection of good stories to hand on to her niece.
You can find out more about Laura Cooper. Visit her personal page on Ballardwriters.org.